Political leaders who live in glass houses… should look in a mirror


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For a political party that hasn’t cracked the 15 per cent mark in a general election in 28 years, the provincial Liberals sure complain a lot about not getting the media attention they claim to deserve.

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For a political party that hasn’t cracked the 15 per cent mark in a general election in 28 years, the provincial Liberals sure complain a lot about not getting the media attention they claim to deserve.

A quick Google search shows the party and its leader, Dougald Lamont, have been quoted in well over 200 news stories over the past five years, including regular coverage in the Free Press. News media in Manitoba often go out of their way to give the Liberals a pulpit, mostly out of a sense of obligation, even though they haven’t won more than three seats in a general election since 1990. (They had four seats and official party status in the legislative assembly after Lamont won a byelection in 2018, but fell back to three after the 2019 election).

It’s curious, then, why I received a lengthy email from Lamont last week complaining that his party doesn’t get the attention it deserves and that commentators, like myself, don’t give the Liberals their due.

“You’ve written a piece projecting the outcome of the provincial election ten months from now, mentioning only two parties,” wrote Lamont, who said he doesn’t know what the basis for that is, but suspects it’s opinion polls.

I wrote a column recently projecting an NDP victory in the upcoming provincial election, scheduled for Oct. 3. I didn’t mention the Liberals because they have zero chance of winning government. The party has not been a serious contender since the early 1990s, at best. Their success or failure has been driven largely by the relative strength or weakness of the NDP, with whom they vie the most for votes.

The last time the party drew more than 15 per cent of the vote was in 1995, under then-leader Paul Edwards, when they received 24 per cent support. They’ve come nowhere near that since. Their popular vote dropped to 13 per cent in 1999 after two leadership changes and several embarrassing public spats. A once competitive party, which won 20 seats in 1988 under then-leader Sharon Carstairs, has been a disaster over the past six elections. The party drew only 14 per cent of the vote in 2016 and 2019 and a dismal 7.5 per cent in 2011.

Lamont says that’s because the media focuses too much on public opinion polls which, he says, influences how people vote. The Liberals can’t get ahead, not because they’re incompetent, but because they’re portrayed in the media as perennial have-nots, he suggests.

“Commentators will conclude that, based on a poll, the outcome is fixed, when the premise of an opinion poll is ‘provided nothing else changes, who will you vote for?’” wrote Lamont. “For us, this means a self-fulfilling prophecy — if we can’t get coverage, we can’t go up in the polls, and if we can’t go up in the polls, we can’t get coverage.”

Lamont claims that if he wants to get his message in the newspaper or on TV, he has to buy an ad.

That, of course, is patently false. The party gets regular media coverage — probably more than it deserves. In the last week alone, Lamont was quoted in at least two Free Press stories, one in the Brandon Sun and in CBC Manitoba and Global News stories. He was also interviewed on CJOB radio last week.

What’s interesting, and perhaps part of the problem for the Liberals, is that Lamont takes no responsibility for his own performance, or that of his party, to explain the lack of success. Politics is hard. It takes years of exhausting work to build momentum and public support. Leaders such as Carstairs worked tirelessly, touring the province, connecting with Manitobans and recruiting high-quality candidates to win 20 seats. Former NDP leader Gary Doer toughed it out for 11 years in Opposition, rebuilding his party and convincing New Democrats that moderating their ideological views was the only path back to government.

The Liberals, meanwhile, have been plagued by years of political infighting and incompetence, which has prevented them from developing a strong, well-financed political organization with a defined brand.

Party leaders don’t succeed by lazily sitting behind a keyboard, sending out press releases and whining to newspaper columnists. It takes elbow grease, political ingenuity and years of hard work to get ahead. It’s not the media’s fault the Liberals can’t get their act together. If anything, they’ve had a free ride.


Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.

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